Street Music of India

During our growing years, we Indians are exposed to a lot of rural folk as well as urban street music. It is noticed that the amorphous nature of music has given rise to an unique amalgam of folk music and popular cinema sounds, being performed by musicians on stages and arenas, depicting the cultural experience of urban life and the streets. One can easily relate street music with the multi-dimensions of street culture.

There is an evident cross fertilisation between the two musical forms, with both taking from, and responding to the other. The Indian film music industry has a strong influence on popular Indian culture and while it has shaped public preferences, it has also borrowed from classical music forms. One common belief about street musicians is of them being too lazy to get a ‘real‘ job, harassing people on the streets with ‘inferior‘ or ‘crude‘ acts to solicit money to support a degenerate lifestyle. This perception is not confined to this part of the world only.

Bhajan from Benares :  (Download)

Tribal Song from Rajasthan :  (Download)

Nautanki Song from Kanpur :  (Download)

Street music is perceived as a ‘lesser‘ performing art, an illegitimate musical form. However, it continues to endure this viewpoint, surviving elitist ideas of ‘high‘ art. Moreover, street music is being increasingly absorbed into mainstream musical forms but without recognition. Lack of recognition of this art form, deprive the artists of social and economic benefits that are rightfully theirs.

Jogi Song from Gujarat :  (Download)

Bhajan from Orissa :  (Download)

Baul Song from Bengal :  (Download)

Beggar’s Song in a Street :  (Download)

The homespun, creative and intelligent construction of musical instruments made by the artists themselves, mirror the many dimensions of the artist. Streets and their culture lie at the heart of public life in contemporary India, especially in cities where urban housing is crowded and uncomfortable. Its streets act as thoroughfares, bazaars, theatres and most of all, a setting whose culture is constantly changing and evolving with time.

Comments are welcome.


Four Random Songs 3

One more installment of songs, that I found from here and there, while surfing the web :

Girija Devi – Ganga Reti Pe Bangla :  (Download)

Shobha Gurtu – Kadar Na Jani :  (Download)

Malini Rajurkar – Chaal Pehchani :  (Download)

Ajoy Chakrabarty – Ka Sang Kheloon Mein Phag :  (Download)

.. more Random Songs »

Comments are welcome.


Songs of the Nautch Girls

The first ever Indian voice was recorded by Fred Gaisberg in London in February 1899. These were 7 inch records with recording on one side only. Some 44 recordings, were made in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi. None of these records have been found by the collectors. In 1900 the population of India was approximately 234 million. The inhabitants spoke more than twenty different languages and hundreds of dialects, and had a musical culture reaching back several thousand years. This potential market led to three major recording tours by Gramophone Company experts between 1902 and 1908, led by Fred Gaisberg, William Sinkler Darby, and Will Gaisberg.

Gauhar Jan of Calcutta :

On November 14, 1902, the first recording of Hindustani classical music was engraved in the grooves of a gramophone record. A very rudimentary and makeshift recording studio had been set up in two large rooms of a hotel in Calcutta by the Gramophone Company. Gaisberg visited several theaters, attended mehfils at wealthy Jamindars‘ palaces, and thus found at least one promising artist to begin with. The artist was a very famous dancing girl, although her voice was not so sweet for European ears. She agreed to a recording session for the handsome fee of Rs. 3,000. Her name was Gauhar Jan.

Gauhar Jan of Calcutta – Bhairavi Thumri (1902) :  (Download)

Zohra Bai of Agra – Matki Mori (1905) :  (Download)

Zohra Bai of Agra – Paraj Tarana (1905) :  (Download)

In the beginning around 1902, many artists recorded songs in Calcutta. The artists were either ‘Nautch Girls‘ (dancing girls) or women under the patronage of kings and wealthy landlords. They belonged to Agra, Lucknow, Allahabad, Benares, Calcutta, and Delhi. Later on celebrity dancing girls like Janki Bai of Allahabad, Zohra Bai of Agra, Malka Jan of Agra recorded prolifically for the company. During 1902-1908, recordings of over 8-10 very famous artists helped in establishing the business in India. However, these are almost forgotten now. Here is an attempt to acknowledge these noted female singers of that period. The songs may not be good examples of the art of classical singing, but are of historic importance.

Janki Bai of Allahabad :

Malka Jan of Agra – Maro Pichkari (1906) :  (Download)

Janki Bai of Allahabad – Fana Kaisi Bana (1908) :  (Download)

Janki Bai of Allahabad – Medicine Men (1908) :  (Download)

In order to have recorded documentation for making paper labels, the artists were asked to announce their names in English at the end of singing. This helped the technicians in Germany in making the final records ready for sale. All the songs posted above have the announcement at the end. This continued for two more recording expeditions and about 3000 wax records were made, pressed in Germany and brought back to India for marketing.

Comments are welcome.


Master Madan : the child prodigy

Master Madan (1927-1942), a child prodigy (not to be confused with music composer Madan Mohan), died at the young age of 14 years, sang only a few songs which are everlasting and embedded in perfection. During his lifetime he recorded only 8 songs. Of these, only two Ghazals are available publicly. These are the famous,‘Yun Naa Rah Rah Ke Hame Tarsaiye’* and, ‘Hairat Se Tak Raha Hai’*. The other six songs are very rarely found, and of great archival value. In this post I present to you, all the 8 songs ever recorded by him.

Master Madan was born on December 28, 1927, in Khanna, a village in Jalandhar district of Punjab. He sang in public for the first time when he was three and a half years old, in a rally arranged by Dharampur Sanatorium. The audience was understandably spell bound. He was given many gold medals right there and then. After that he and his elder brother toured all over India and collected many prizes from the rulers of many princely states. They sang in the famous Harvallabh Mela of Jalandhar city and later in Shimla. Reportedly, in the Shimla Sammelan, many notable singers had also come, but thousands were eager to listen to Master Madan only.

Bhajan – Gori Gori Baiyan :  (Download)

Bhajan – Mori Binati Maano Kaanh Re :  (Download)

Ghazal – Man Ki Man :  (Download)

Bhajan – Chetna Hai Toh Chet Lai :  (Download)

At the age of eight, he was a famous radio singer, singing mainly on Delhi radio station on Alipur road. His final public program took place in Calcutta at age 14. He sang, ‘Vinati Suno Mori Avadhpur Ke Basiya’ for 90 minutes with such beauty that the public refused to go home. One patron respectfully offered Rs. 500, a princely sum in those days, on his feet. Also 9 gold medals were announced by various patrons to be given to him. In those days, gold medals were really made of gold. He returned to Delhi and kept going to the Delhi radio station for about 3-4 months. Soon he started getting sick. Many remedies were tried but nothing helped.

Punjabi Song – Bagaan Vich Pingan Paiyan :  (Download)

Punjabi Song – Raavii De Parle Kande Ve Mitara :  (Download)

Ghazal – Yun Naa Rah Rah Ke Hame Tarsaiye* :  (Download)

Ghazal – Hairat Se Tak Raha Hai* :  (Download)

In the summer of 1942, he went to Shimla, where his forehead, and joints started to shine unusually. He died on June 5, 1942 suffering a great deal of pain. It was suspected that he died of mercury poisoning. It is believed that a jealous singer gave him mercury in his milk. On his death, Shimla closed down and a huge gathering accompanied him on his last journey.

Comments are welcome.


Dance of the Wind : the Soundtrack

Very few films have featured Hindustani classical music as their central theme. Dance of the Wind (or Swara Mandal) is a 1997 Hindi film, written and directed by Rajan Khosa. The film was a co-production between five countries, including UK, Germany and India. A celebration of classical music traditions, the film captures the beauty of ancient Indian music and the culture from which it emanates.

Pallavi (Kitu Gidwani), a budding Indian classical singer, is the daughter and student of celebrated classical singer, Karuna Devi (Kapila Vatsyayan). While she was still gaining her confidence, her mother expires suddenly. Due to this shock Pallavi lost not just her bearings but also her voice, subsequently she also loses her career, her students, and her husband. It is only after she meets a young street urchin, Tara and start teaching her, following the guru-shishya parampara (master-student tradition) of Indian classical music, as her mother once did with her, does she begin to find herself again, and also her voice.

The beautiful soundtrack of the film is by Shubha Mudgal, while playback was given by Shweta Jhaveri (for Pallavi), Shanti Hiranand (for Karuna Devi), and Brinda Roy Choudhuri (for Tara). Other noted artists, who worked on the soundtrack were, Sarangi maestro, Ustad Sultan Khan, and noted flautist, Ronu Majumdar.

The Concert – Shweta Jhaveri :  (Download)

Tara’s Song – Brinda Roy Choudhuri :  (Download)

I recently met Brinda Roy Choudhuri on and she was surprised that I remembered her name. She did not have copies of the songs she sang for this film (she was 11 years old then). I was too glad to oblige. She is a 25 year old, highly talented singer now. Shweta Jhaveri, as we all know, is a well known classical vocalist of today. Shanti Hiranand is better known for a biography of her guru, the legendary Begum Akhtar: The Story of my Ammi. She also played a miniscule role of Siddhartha’s mother in Conrad Rooks’ 1972 movie Siddhartha. She is a superb singer and I wonder why more of her songs are not available today.

Echoes in Time 1 – Shanti Hiranand :  (Download)

Heart of Darkness – Shweta Jhaveri :  (Download)

Echoes in Time 2 – Shanti Hiranand :  (Download)

The film was premiered at 1997 Venice Film Festival, and became India’s official entry at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Melbourne Film Festival, Jerusalem Film Festival and International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 1998. The film went on to win the ‘Gold Plaque for Music’ at the 1998 Chicago Film Festival. However, it was commercially released in India, only in February 2008.